It is four years ago this coming week that all my plans were changed and my priorities reordered. I wrote these words in the thick of a painful recovery.
Five years ago I was given the unusual opportunity of speaking to a group of around 400 high school students. The occasion was a daily chapel service in a large private Christian high school in a Dallas suburb. A good friend of mine was a teacher in that school and was also in charge of arranging chapel speakers. So he asked me to come and share some thoughts with the students.
It so happened that the chapel service landed on the very day that my son and his wife were in Ethiopia to adopt their son from an orphanage there. So it was natural that at the top of my mind were thoughts about the significance and depth of relationships between parents and children.
I remarked to the assembled group of kids that day that, whether they knew it or not, they had been given great power. I told them that they held within their hands the power to bring joy or heartbreak into the lives of their families. “Just think”, I said. “You possess such incredible power that your life choices will bring either happiness or ruination to those who have given themselves to you in love. You hold someone’s heart in your hands.”
I mentioned those things to them that day because the choices we make in late childhood and early adulthood are often so consequential that their effects can last for the rest of our lives. I wanted the kids to feel the weight and significance of it all.
This notion, that the recipient of love is imbued with great power, has lately occupied my thoughts a great deal.
Almost exactly three months ago I was given the great and good gift of nearly dying. Intense reminders of our mortality - the fleeting temporariness of our lives - are clarifying events that should force us to remember the things that matter. “Nothing is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result”, Winston Churchill remarked. Nothing is as sobering either.
In my own life, nearly dying has scrambled my priorities and even my interests, causing me to reconsider where I’m investing the limited amount of time I have. But it has also filled me with urgency to more rightly value the things I already know are valuable. I want to savor every single moment with those I love.
I have come to believe that a recipient of love holds, not only the power of happiness and heartbreak, but in a very real sense she also holds the power to heal.
In my own case, my love for my wife gave me the motivation to endure the crucible of suffering that was the only path I had to survival. Had I not loved her so, I’m not at all sure I would have opted to stay in this world.
But even more remarkable than the effect love had on my own will to live was the surprising power my wife possessed to bring comfort and healing. I have come to believe that when you truly love another person, in a remarkable way you empower her to be a unique help to you in your time of need. I’m not talking about a charitable, pitying kind of love but the kind of love that leads to sustained devotion. When a man is devoted to a woman, she develops the power to comfort and heal in a way that no one else can.
We recently went to see the movie “Deep Water Horizon”. It is the story of the disastrous accident on the British Petroleum drilling rig off the coast of New Orleans. It is a harrowing tale of the struggle of the oil field works to save each other and escape from the rig into the ocean. Mark Wahlberg plays one of the heroes responsible for rescuing several, and only barely escapes himself by jumping from an extraordinary height into the burning sea. He is rescued and, along with the rest, makes his way back to land where he is taken to a hotel to rest and recover. Alone in his hotel room, away from prying eyes, he collapses face down on the floor in heaving sobs. At just this moment his wife makes it to his room only to find him broken down on the floor. She runs to him and folds him in her arms...and applies her very self to his wounded heart.
As I sat there watching that scene I found unbidden tears flowing down my face. I’m not a big cryer in movies, but it occurred to me that my tears were flowing due to the shock of recognition: I know all too well the healing power of a wife who loves, and is loved by, her husband. Her power to heal is an outgrowth of her own love when combined with her husband’s devotion. The more he values her, the greater her power to bless.
I’m not writing here about rules for a happy marriage. I’m not giving advice about what people are required to do. I’m really only making observations about the real life effects of mutual devotion in a time of trial. I’m writing as a witness, not as an expert.
But I have seen things in this world. And one of them is that miserly love - the stingy kind doled out with tweezers or eye droppers in a kind of conditional trickle - has a tendency to impoverish both giver and recipient. Prodigal love, on the other hand, eagerly given out in great buckets and barrels - until the recipient is soaking in a flood of devotion - this kind of love creates superpowers of healing in the one who is loved.
The way this works amazes me.